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S. Korea's beef imports hit record high in 2015

All News 09:27 January 20, 2016

SEJONG, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's beef imports surged to a new record high in 2015 mainly due to a spike in local meat prices, government data showed Wednesday.

Asia's fourth-largest economy imported more than US$1.81 billion worth of beef last year, smashing the previous record of $1.67 billion in 2014, according to the data by the Korea Customs Service (KCS). It was also the highest tally since the agency started keeping such data in 1995.

"Demand for imports rose as local beef prices led by meat from premium hanwoo cows shot up to levels on par with 2010, when the country's cattle stock was devastated by a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak," the KCS said.

The government's recent policy of controlling the number of cattle to prevent sharp fluctuations in prices also played a part, it added.

The agency pointed out that while the supply of hanwoo cow meat declined over the past few years, the growing popularity of camping and other forms of outdoor recreational activities actually spurred demand for meat that caused local prices to rise and forced many to buy cheaper imports.

According to the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation, 100 grams of first grade hanwoo beef ribs cost an average of 4,959 won (US$4.1) on the market as of Tuesday, while the price for the same cut of meat imported from Australia stood at just 2,403 won.

Reflecting this, the KCS said Australian beef imports reached $972.9 million last year, making up 56.6 percent of the total, followed by U.S. beef imports that reached $749 million that accounted for 41.3 percent. Imports from New Zealand, Canada and Uruguay made up the rest.

In terms of volume, the country imported 295,369 tons of meat last year, the fourth-largest to date and up 5.6 percent from 279,706 tons the year before.

In its outlook for 2016, the Korea Rural Economic Institute said that with the overall amount of local hanwoo beef on the decline, prices for meat will likely continue to rise, which in turn will fuel more demand for cheaper imports.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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